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Dead Cow, Dead Pig, and Dead Sheep

By Mark McKeough

I don't eat beef or pork. Or, as I tell new acquaintances: I don't eat dead cow or dead pig. On the rare occasion I will taste a bite simply because it looks so good. However, I do eat chicken and seafood, and milk and eggs and cheese, trying to be aware of where the animals came from and how they were treated. The reason I don't eat beef and pork, or lamb, is something I heard on the TV about twenty years ago, when I still had a television and during the early part of the fight to reintroduce wolves into Yellowstone. A local station played a sound bite from a representative from a cattlemen's association. He wore a trim, dress Stetson and what looked like a clean work jacket. An older gentleman, he looked self-assured in the power he represented in the debate. But I had the sense that it had been a while since he'd spent any real time with the guy who had a permit to run a hundred and fifty cows. The only line I remember from him that day is: "Maybe the wolf's time here is finished."

You can understand why a news reporter would choose to report such arrogance. Words like that do tend to crystallize an issue, even with such a long, drawn out war like the one this country, and the West in particular, has had with the wolf. When I heard what he said it didn't take me more than ten seconds to promise myself that I wouldn't eat beef again until the wolf was back in Yellowstone. Pork and lamb were throw-in's.

I'm on the wolf's side in the war, foolish as that may be. From my perspective I think I have seen the one of best moments of the war, if there can be such a thing in a war. When wolf 253 got caught in that leg-hold trap near Morgan he survived. The government trapper had him, ten feet away, and he didn't shoot him. Who knows if 253's radio collar saved him or whether the trapper really did want to obey the laws in place that now "protect" wolves. I believe it was the latter. But I also believe the state agencies involved quickly and quietly let it be known how unhappy they were to have to deal with a live wolf.

253 has brought the war on predators back to the front page and center stage. The wolf has returned to play the leading role in the war. One has to admire the bravura of the coyote, cougar and black bear as stand-ins for the last 80 years. After all, they survived when the wolf didn't. Still, the headliner is back, with all its instant and hyped infamy. Utah likes its familiar role in the drama too. There can be no question this state government wants as few restraints as possible to be able to kill wolves however they want to. They'll use the old slogans about protecting a unique way of life and the rural economy in trying to get their way. You can be sure they won't be as direct, and inept, as that rancher in stating their case, weak as it is. Not surprisingly, they will add people like me to their enemies' list. After all, if I'm for the wolf I'm against the rancher. I'm bad guy number two. Well, I won't diminish the conflicts both sides face. But I'd caution the rancher to be wary of letting someone else or some other agency talk for him or her. Keep in mind that the HUPC board likely eats as much meat as the board of the Cattlemen's Association. It's a lot easier for the state to say "shoot wolves" than to take aim at the cheap beef here courtesy of NAFTA. Bold speeches and desk pounding have had about the same effect on the drought as on the power two or three feedlot companies enjoy on setting prices. I have no qualms about the Governor specifying Utah beef for his inaugural ball. But I doubt if it's in the caterer's contract. I even wonder if the caterer would know where to go get it if it were. The difficulties Utah ranchers face they have faced for three generations--without the wolf to blame. That's a long time for all the players--the feds, state government, ranchers, consumers, conservationists and those that don't eat dead cow or dead pig--to be a part of a dilemma, however one defines it. As a practical matter, it seems foolish to think shooting wolves again is going to help much.

The last time I was somewhere lamb was being fixed for dinner was last December at a friend's. And it smelled wonderful. Garlic, sage, olive oil. I was on my way to a meeting so I couldn't hang around for a bite. That last time was also the first time for all 2002. Which made me curious about what is in my dog's food. The major portion of his diet is dried dead chicken and dried dead sheep pelleted with dried dead corn. That makes McCool a major lamb consumer, a habit he enjoys with undiminished relish. What it makes me, I'm not sure. I don't think it moves me down much on the sheep herders' enemy list.

I admit to the bloodless writing up to this point, with all the issue skimming, cant and easy stereotypes. But my instinct tells me to put it all in, to let the truth in it find its place next to the passion I feel for the wolf and the wolf's rightful place here in Utah. My instinct tells me to watch my passion and equate it with the passion a rancher can have for raising cows. It tells me to be weary of the lenient position and contentment seen in both allies and enemies. It tells me the wolf will be back, without waiting for any reassurance from us, without a nod to any argument or plan, or the power of any enemy or idea. I could stand at the edge of the road in the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone, where 253 came from, and yell to my heart's content at any wolf I saw: "Don't go. Don't leave." Or, "Come on down to Utah. Jump in the truck. I'll take you. We need you as a neighbor."

We do need them as a neighbor, even if there is a selfishness to it in that what they face here at our pleasure is just a couple of new ways to die. Maybe what I should yell the next time I'm in the Lamar is: "Godspeed. I'm sorry."


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